Posted by: markfender | October 12, 2011


I have never understood the point of wandering monster tables.

And yet, there is something appealing about randomness in games. Not the outcome of actions (that’s sort of a given, what with the dice and all), but in the setup to the world. For instance, something like Abulafia bills itself as a “content generation system.” It has a ton of random generators for all kinds of plot hooks, adventure seeds, and other sundry things. Could you run an entire campaign based on content from that site? Would it in any way be satisfying?

Old school games buy much more into this idea. As an exercise in hex crawling, I don’t think GMs were really expected to populate every hex of the world with its own adventure. Which is where those wandering monster tables come in. And those reaction tables. And the random contents of treasure parcels. Etc. etc. etc. until it was past midnight and the Mountain Dew had run out – another successful session.

But nowadays, we want plot, character development, and narrative space. In a Wicked Age is one such game that attempts to bring in those random elements into its plot generation, which I suppose works well. But it tends to only handle one-shots. Is there a way to bridge that gap with random plot development into a full-fledged campaign? I have no idea. But it’d be interesting to see.

Too often, these random charts end up being too silly. All those “combine root words into an Elvish name” charts, for instance. I find it much better if each line item on the chart is internally consistent. AEG’s Toolbox, for instance, is nothing but charts, and every line item is self-contained. The Tavern Names charts don’t just combine root words – each one could stand alone and makes sense. ‘Course the next problem is that combining results from multiple charts can often lead to silliness as well. I don’t know how you prevent that.

Ideally, I’d love to see some sort of random charting system that had ‘weighted’ results. E.g. you’re far more likely to get “go kill some kobolds” at low levels. And if it could then expand on your actions, leading to results like “the kobolds are mad at you for killing them” or “the kobolds hire an assassin to kill you” that would be awesome. Of course, any good GM is already doing that, but could some of that be placed into a random generator? I don’t know. I’m probably not well-versed in math enough to even try. But that might be a cool product.



  1. “In a Wicked Age is one such game that attempts to bring in those random elements into its plot generation, which I suppose works well. But it tends to only handle one-shots.”

    Gah! No! IaWA is a campaign based game, not for one shots. The Owe List is all about bringing the game back around to the same characters over and over again. You just have to play a few games before you get back to them.

    • So, it’s a whole bunch of one-shots connected by some continuing characters every once in awhile? That’s not a campaign, that’s a Conan collection.

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